ZiPS: Just in case you didn't already love this team

This is the new prospect I'm overly excited about. - USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals look really good on paper.

The ZiPS are here! Thanks to a VEBer (I can't for the life of me remember who -- chime in in the comments) getting a trivia question right on twitter (what a strange world we live in) the St. Louis Cardinals moved up in the pecking order of ZiPS releases. The verdict is: this looks like a pretty good team.

It's hard to say that too definitively when we haven't seen projections for other teams as well but consider the starting lineup and rotation:

Player wOBA Player FIP
Matt Adams - 1B .336 Adam Wainwright 2.93
Kolten Wong - 2B .309 Shelby Miller 3.57
Jhonny Peralta - SS .317 Lance Lynn 3.41
Matt Carpenter - 3B .334 Michael Wacha 3.65
Allen Craig - RF .346 Joe Kelly 3.93
Peter Borjous - CF .321
Matt Holliday - LF .359 Carlos Martinez 3.79
Yadier Molina - C .334 Trevor Rosenthal 2.51

Last year's average wOBA was .314 so the Cardinals projected lineup for 2014 contains one below average hitter and then the pitcher's position. That is remarkable. The pitching looks to be extremely solid and deep. Adam Wainwright leads the pack with an excellent projection followed by a lot of better than average pitchers (Miller, Lynn, Wacha, Garcia -- though the injury almost invalidates the projection) and a bunch of average-below average pitchers who can fill in the back of the rotation (Kelly, Martinez, Tyler Lyons, Boone Whiting). And then, just to be spiteful, Trevor Rosenthal projects as a nearly 2 WAR closer again.

Basically, the Cardinals are really great but you probably didn't need ZiPS to tell you that. Here's three things ZiPS can tell you better than your gut.

1). The David Freese/Fernando Salas for Peter Borjous/Randall Grichuk trade was really great.

ZiPS is a Borjous fan and, really, who isn't? It likes him to be a better than average hitter with good defense. What is more surprising is that it things Grichuk could hang in the major leagues today. He's be a slightly below average hitter on par with expectations for Kolten Wong just with less time spent on base and way more power. This isn't an accident.

See the Cardinals were in on Grichuk back in 2009. Check this tweet from Goold on June 7th, 2009:

And Goold has written more extensively about him here. The Cardinals got, as a secondary piece in the trade, an athletic, rangy outfielder with superb power. There are essentially two extremes at which you can evaluate Grichuk. 1) He is what he is. He's never going to reach base much but he will hit for enough power to hang onto a bench job as a 4th outfielder. 2) There's some changes to his swing  that would make him more effective at hitting for average and reach base.

If you subscribe to the second school of thought, the Cardinals essentially got a high upside, medium floor player who has already passed the early viability threshold tests and risen to AAA.  Even if that isn't the case, Grichuk sure makes players like Shane Robinson (.299 wOBA) and Jon Jay (.309 wOBA) look redundant. The Cardinals got the best player in the Borjous-Freese trade and possibly even the second best player as well. ZiPS will have more to say on that with the Angels projections but that still looks like a hell of a trade.

2). In a similar vein to the first point, the Cardinals find themselves suddenly flush with outfielders.

The popular thought this offseason was that the Cardinals could move a starter for other pieces. (Personally, I'd still like to see Lance Lynn and his splits moved but that's another conversation). If the Cardinals decided to trade a starter, they'd have the depth in the outfield to move players without damaging the short or long term prospects of their major league team. Consider this depth:

Player wOBA
Matt Holliday .359
Allen Craig .346
Oscar Taveras .334
Peter Borjous .321
Stephen Piscotty .312
Mike O'Neill
Jon Jay
Randall Grichuk .306
Shane Robinson .299

Nine players who all project to be worth 1 WAR or more in the outfield next year. If there was ever a list to convince you to trade Jon Jay, this would be that list. With Oscar Taveras having some capability at CF, Randall Grichuk being a well regarded defender and Shane Robinson as a true center fielder, Jay's value as a cheap, centerfielder is probably higher to other teams than it is as Peter Borjous' backup to the Cardinals.  It's still a matter of what they could receive as a return but Jay is hardly an irreplaceable commodity.

3). The team shouldn't trade Shelby Miller and should re-think whether Joe Kelly needs a rotation slot.

Joe Kelly seems nice. He's got a good sense of humor. I suspect he's a solid call of duty player. That said, the argument for him to be in the Cardinals starting rotation next year is a questionable one. ZiPS reinforces what we knew (mmmm, confirmation bias) going into the playoffs of 2012 as well, Shelby Miller is a better pitcher than Joe Kelly. So is Lance Lynn and now it appears that Carlos Martinez might be as well.

Miller and Wacha both enter next season with nearly identical projections. For all the justified post-season fawning on Wacha, it would be easy to forget that Shelby Miller is a hell of a pitcher and not merely an afterthought to the rotation. Miller actually projects to have the best K/BB rate among Miller, Wacha and Lynn but ZiPS thinks he's a tad susceptible to the long ball. While the Cardinals could move Miller without seeing a serious drop off in their rotation, it's probably a 1 WAR loss from Miller to his replacement.

At this point, I'm left to simply fawn on the front office which is starting to seem unbecoming. (At least we aren't reading stories like this though.) Projection systems like the Cardinals and while they aren't liable to repeat their weird clutch hitting from 2013, ZiPS says they don't need to.

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